If climate scientists want to maintain an inkling of credibility on global warming issues, then they’ll need to limit their own carbon footprint before they ask others to limit theirs, according to a survey from climate researchers.
Shahzeen Attari of Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs surveyed 3,000 Americans to see the impact climate scientists’ credibility had on their messages and advice. The results were published in Springer’s journal Climatic Change.
The participants read scenarios in which a fictional climate researcher is giving a discussion about how drastically reducing air travel and ratcheting down home energy use can help save the environment — after which the researcher suggests ideas to help people be better stewards of Mother Earth.
The participants were then asked: “During the question period a member of the audience asks the researcher whether he flew across the country to give this talk. He replies that he regularly flies to lectures and conferences all over the world. It is part of his job, though flying like this does lead to negative impacts on the climate.”
Subjects who read this statement were much more interested in advice on how to save household energy, and less so on transportation.
“Credibility may require climate researchers to decrease their carbon footprint,” Attari noted.
“Effective communicators about climate change do sometimes discuss their own behavior and our research indicates that this can be a good way to enhance their credibility,” she added. “Whether the climate scientists are male or female, what they do in private can have a pronounced effect on how their message is perceived by the public.”
In order to communicate effectively, “advocates of energy conservation need to be the change they wish to see,” Attari said. “Climate researchers, including the three authors of this study, need to make strong efforts to reduce their own carbon footprints.”
Attari’s findings bring to mind many instances of Hollywood-types and climate change justice warriors acting inconsistent with their anti-global warming messages.